These are the common answers I hear when I ask my friends about starting a venture while they are in school. I get it — with tests, crammed dorms, and bad cafeteria food, student life appears to be a terrible time to do anything but study. I disagree. In fact, I have conviction that being a student is actually the most ideal time to start a venture and can provide super convenient tools that full-time entrepreneurs envy. What in particular you ask? Here are 5 clever ways to utilize the student card when building your venture:
- Milk the s*#t out of your .edu email: I truly believe .edu emails are one of the most underutilized assets any student, not just a student founder, is given while at college. Statistically speaking, .edu emails have some of the best open rates across all domain extensions. The domain is less likely to go to spam and alumni, potential customers, business partners, investors, you name it like giving advice to students. At Babson, alumni still have access to their whole Google Suite and I know plenty who still use their @babson.edu handle for networking. While alumni at other schools might not have access to their alma mater’s email, I highly advocate to use it as much as possible while you still can. Not to mention, you can get some pretty great discounts online.
2. Ultra Accessible Fundraising Opportunities: Second to the government, colleges have a tendency to give outs lots of free money. For example, Babson has an array of venture programs and competitions like the B.E.T.A. Challenge, Rocket Pitch Competition, Summer Catalyst, Summer Venture Program, and more for Babson students to participate in, get feedback, raise capital, and jumpstart their business. During Babson’s 100th Year Anniversary in the fall of 2019, GLV Founding Partner Sumukh Setty hosted Babson’s ePitch Competition with a grand prize of $100,000! And a few years back, Babson alumni and Cleancult (backed by top VCs like BoxGroup and institutions like the George Kaiser Family Foundation) founders Zach Bedrosian and Ryan Lupberger won $20,000 in Babson’s B.E.T.A. Challenge. In total, if you’re a student founder, be sure to check out your school’s business or entrepreneurship department. You’d be surprised how many easy fundraising channels are available.
3. Super Resourceful Courses & Professors: Trust me I get it; unless you’re a math major, not many college students love sitting in their 8AM calculus class on a Friday with a professor who doesn’t want to be there as much as you do. However, as you climb the ranks from freshmen and sophomore to upperclassman, you’ll be able to take more specialized classes and be taught by your college’s “legendary” professors. Why is this helpful? Well, say for example you’re looking to build a new, disruptive e-commerce venture — why not take classes in supply chain management, consumer psychology, or even website design? That’s an effective way to knock off credits but also learn something practical that aligns with your business.
On top of that, veteran and specifically tenured professors have usually worked in the field before shifting to academia. They can provide a vast amount of advice and even mentorship as you begin to build your venture. Don’t believe me? Olin’s faculty roster has some of the biggest names in engineering. One of them is Dr. David Barrett, Ph. D — holder of 15 patents, former VP of Engineering at iRobot (maker of the Roomba®), and former Director at Walt Disney’s Imagineering (Disney’s research and development arm). If you’re working on a robotics venture, who’d be better to connect with than Dr. Barrett (aside from Elon Musk)? Moreover, optimize your courseload with great teachers who are experts in your venture’s market and who can help you develop skills directly applicable to your business.
4. Fluid User Feedback & Access to Potential Customers + Alumni: In product development, talking to as many potential users as possible will steer you in the right direction to build the best solution to the problem you’re trying to solve. Colleges are an ideal environment where you can get input on your product’s design, functionalities, and features from your roommate to random kids in the library. At BOW, you’ll have access to nearly 6000 students that can give you direct feedback on your product. Even better, if your startup’s target market is young people like college students, you’ll have automatic access and relationships with prospective customers that other businesses would kill for.
And lastly, in tandem with the .edu email, attending college will open the doors to amazing alumni that can help you with your idea. Some examples: at Wellesley, Blackrock cofounder and board member and Apple board director Susan Wagner loves to visit Wellesley and even sits on the college’s board of trustees. She is known for her open dialogue with students and has even given out her email to students if they’d like to network. Another example is with our advisor Tim Chae, General Partner at venture capital juggernaut 500 Startups. If it weren’t for the BOW student-alumni connection and Tim’s zest to accelerate the entrepreneurship ecosystem across the three schools, GLV could still be an idea in a notebook.
5. Terrific Work Experience: Internship hunting is hard. If you’re an international student on a visa, that makes it 10x harder. And for full-time jobs it’s even trickier — I have close friends who haven’t received return offers just because they aren’t U.S. citizens. Regardless of whether you’re a citizen or not, snagging that coveted internship is no easy feat. Starting your own venture is a perfect way to get around this. Not only will you be able to fill in that gap in your resume and acquire skills in sales, marketing, design, product development, finance, and beyond, but it’ll show that you’re proactive, creative, and super driven — which is exactly what employers are looking for. So, even if you decide you’re not ready to go all-in on entrepreneurship, working on your own venture can open some gates that are typically closed to experienced professionals. Imagine you’re applying to Google or Microsoft’s product management role and the hiring manager sees you started your own mobile app. Not only would the recruiting team love that, but I promise you the odds of receiving an offer would go up multi-fold.
Starting a business while in college does have its pros and cons. Balancing class, friends, and your venture will definitely lead to late nights. But long term, the benefits can be extraordinary, both tangibly (mainly financial) and intangibly (expanded skill set, widened network, and great experience). College is a time to be risk-on — whenever again will you be able to start a business or two, have them potentially fail, and have a great fall back like school always be on the table? That’s something full-time entrepreneurs would die for. Don’t believe me that great companies can come out of a dorm room? I recommend checking out Reddit, Google, and Facebook.
As always, if you’re working on an idea, drop us a line at firstname.lastname@example.org and visit our website www.greenline.vc.
Bahram Tavakoli, Founding Partner of Green Line Ventures.